There are treasures hiding in plain sight.

Examples:

  • A neighbor who loves Scrabble as much as you do!
  • A houseplant that can be propagated to make more houseplants!
  • Cumin: a spice with a seemingly infinite number of complimentary foods and health properties!

There’s another treasure, and it’s also right in front of your nose. It’s your congregational constitution. If you haven’t perused it lately, please do. The content contained inside its pages can be astoundingly useful.

Perhaps you’re wondering, “Does my church have a constitution? I’ve never heard of it before.” Mostly likely: yes! A congregational constitution is an important document because it describes how a family of faith is organized and governed. Such documents aren’t static; they change over time when members come together to vote on bylaws and amendments.

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True confession: Thinking of a church constitution as a treasure is a new awareness for me. When I was serving in the parish, it was a document I never thought of as a tool for ministry. It seemed boring and archaic. I was so wrong! These days, I’m a big constitutional fan. When explored in combination with prayer, worship and God’s Word, a church constitution can be a marvelous resource to inform individual and collective discernments.

Most constitutions contain some version of a Statement of Purpose. This section highlights why a local congregation exists. At a time when church leaders often feel pulled in a multitude of directions, sitting down with the actual church constitution can be an important and grounding exercise.

When any group of regularly convening people don’t have a shared understanding of why they exist, they often run into challenges. This is certainly true for congregations. Without a collective commitment to a common purpose, we individually create (consciously or unconsciously) our own personal narratives about what it means to be a congregation. A church constitution guides a group back toward the agreed-upon purposes of the congregation.

Without any context, church constitutions can appear to be daunting, unhelpful relics of institutional hierarchy. For this reason, they sometimes end up buried in filing cabinets. The remedy: Unearth the treasure!

Church members, staffs and councils all benefit from familiarity with the church constitution. In the model constitution of the denomination of which I’m affiliated, one of the purposes outlined has been especially clarifying as of late. I’ve been wondering how to deepen collective commitment to justice and peace without partisanship.

I was grateful to find the following words in the church constitution: “The church shall: Serve in response to God’s love to meet human needs, caring for the sick and the aged, advocating dignity and justice for all people, working for peace and reconciliation among the nations, standing with the poor and powerless, and committing itself to their needs.” These constitutional commitments reminded me of important obligations we share as followers of Jesus and members of the church that exist entirely outside of party affiliation.

In the month ahead, consider finding a way to revisit your congregation’s constitution! Reflect on how its contents may be useful in discerning the next right steps for your congregation as you step into autumn. Ponder how council members in your context could be engaged in the work of reading and living into constitutional commitments.

There are treasures right in front of us that can help us in navigating the complexities of ministry. The church constitution is one more tool for your toolkit.

"Holy Everything" is a weekly column by Emily Carson. She is a Lutheran pastor. Visit her website emilyannecarson.com.